Michele Kalas is the vice president of human resources for Mattress Firm. Prior, she was with Saks Fifth Avenue and Hudson’s Bay Company in New York City, where she was director of HR and talent acquisition and oversaw training and onboarding for stores. In addition, Michele is a Women in Retail Leadership Circle member! We asked Michele a series of questions so you can get to know her better.
- What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
“We’re All in This Together,” by Mike Robbins. It’s about creating a team culture of high performance, trust and belonging. He challenges us to be vulnerable with our work family, and I’ve used his exercises in my team-building events.
- What’s a tip you have for productively leading a team while working remotely?
Continuous engagement is critical. We frequently recalibrate our goals, and enjoy problem solving and exchanging best practices as a team. I strive to ensure everyone has a voice and the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution.
- What’s a mistake you made early on in your career?
Trying to do everything myself. I thought, “How bad can that be?” The reality is I would hinder the development of others and assume that I knew the best way to tackle everything. I realized a good leader will provide support and allow others the opportunity to excel and/or miss the mark and have the opportunity to learn and grow. AND I don’t always know the best way to do something; I’m always learning.
- What’s the toughest part of being in charge?
Having to have difficult conversations with high-performing members of my team that may be overflexing or doing exceedingly well in one area of their role and experiencing a blind spot in another. They take great pride in the work they do and they’re so invested. When I need to critique really good work to achieve great results, it can be challenging.
- What’s the best way you motivate team members?
I frequently recognize small milestones and do pulse checks. I invite them to join me in doing the best possible work we’re capable of doing. Let’s show the organization they can’t do this without us. I take an interest in their personal and professional development and make sure they’re getting the skills and experiences they need for their next role.
- What woman inspires you right now and why?
Simone Biles has really inspired me. She’s a former foster child that has a passion for helping other foster children with her time and resources. I participated with her in an event for teens aging out of the system and she was phenomenal. Simone is also a disciplined athlete who spoke out about her personal abuse in gymnastics and encouraged others to speak up. At 24, she plans to compete in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, following her new activewear at Athleta. WHEW! That’s a lot for a 24 year old.
- What are you looking forward to the most for retail in 2021?
Seeing the resurgence of brick-and-mortar. I believe people will be eager to get out and have shopping experiences again. There’s a golden opportunity for retailers to reinvent themselves. The playing field is more level than ever before.
- What’s one thing you look for when interviewing a job candidate?
I call it the 51/49: a can-do positive spirit/skill and expertise. I think it’s important to make sure you hire to the team and acquire individuals that offer a skill or competency that others don’t have to balance out the gaps. It’s critical to have other team members take part in the interview process and contribute their feedback. They’re much more likely to be invested in the new hire’s success.
- What’s something that you learned about yourself in the past year?
First, I have trouble sitting still in front of the camera for several hours a day. I now give myself permission to stand during meetings. Secondly, I can cut down on the length of meetings. I’ve started holding 15-minute meetings vs. 30 minutes or an hour and still accomplish the same goals.
- What’s your favorite podcast?
“Understanding My Privilege” by Sue Borrego. Very insightful.
- What values are most important to you as a leader?
Teams win. No “I” in teams. Everyone has a seat at the table. Secondly, servant leadership. I receive satisfaction in supporting our leadership and helping remove obstacles that stand in the way of success.
- What’s the most important thing people should know about you?
I have thick skin and love learning and growing from my experiences. Feedback is always welcome.
- What’s one habit you adopted while WFH that you’d like to keep with you as you return to the office?
I don’t need a printer! I’ve mastered filing electronically.
- How would you describe yourself in a single sentence?
I’m a high energy connector of people and I do what I say I’m going to do.
- What’s your favorite app?
Calm. It has been extremely helpful in clearing my mind when I’m ready for sleep.
- What do you do to recharge?
Watch baseball and force myself outside for a long walk. It does the body good.
- What’s your biggest accomplishment?
Undoubtedly my contribution at Mattress Firm, driving the human capital strategy of the Retail Optimization Project. We restructured the field organization to better serve the customer in an omnichannel environment, and our business results have exceeded our EBITDA projections. It’s amazing to be part of a winning team, particularly following the challenges of COVID.
- What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Develop yourself, constantly read about leadership, and listen to podcasts to find knowledge and inspiration. Finding a good mentor that will help you leverage your strengths and call out your opportunities is critical.
- What gets you up in the morning?
My internal alarm. I really enjoy having a little quiet time with myself.
- How would you describe your leadership style?
Agile. I try not to ever be rigid and I’m willing to be flexible to meet people where they are. I also believe in strong accountability and holding your feet to the fire.